It was a day of tests for the Menlo School and Palo Alto boys as the tennis rivals took to the courts in the quarterfinal round of the Central Coast Section Team Tournament on a hot Monday afternoon in Atherton.
The top-seeded Knights were missing six players, five of them starters, due to AP testing while the No. 8-seeded Vikings were missing two. Paly also was without a regular who had forgotten to bring his racquet and uniform to the match.
Thus, while players were being tested off the courts, their teammates were facing another exam on them. What normally might have been a more decisive victory by Menlo wound up being a 4-3 nail-biter for the Knights.
"A win is a win," said Menlo coach Bill Shine. "Paly played well, you have to give it to them."
Menlo nearly did give it to the Vikings as the playing field clearly was changed by the classroom testing.
"I have not have this happen before," said Shine, who is finishing up his 18th season with the Knights. "We've got to work on that AP stuff -- should be able to do it at another time."
Menlo, which is seeking a sixth straight CCS team title this week and a record 13th crown overall, was missing No. 2 singles player Lane Leschly, its No. 1 doubles team of Nathan Safran and Gabriel Morgan, doubles starters Michael Quezada and Kylee Santos plus Jake Rudolph. The Knights' No. 1 singles player, Victor Pham, injured a hip flexor on Sunday and was relegated to No. 1 doubles. Paly, meanwhile, was without Kevin Huang and Raymond Li.
"I was concerned," said Shine. "We had no room for error. I knew we would win the top three, but . . ."
The Knights did just that with David Ball defeating Blake Smith at No. 1 singles, 6-2, 6-1; Vikram Chari beat Ronak Baldua at No. 2, 6-2, 6-0; and Gunther Matta took care of Austin Leung at No. 3, 6-2, 6-1. Then, things got interesting.
Paly's Shiv Matta posted a 6-4, 6-2 win over Alex Neumann at No. 4 and Paly seniors Jack Paladin and Adi Mahadevan upended Pham and Clarence Lam at No. 1 doubles, 7-6, 7-5. With only the No. 2 and 3 doubles matches left, Palo Alto trailed by just 3-2 with the possibility of pulling off one of the greatest upsets in CCS tennis history.
Due to the AP tests, neither team had their best No. 3 doubles team on the court. Paly coach Andy Harader had to bring up Carl Goodfriend from the frosh-soph team, where he had won the SCVAL De Anza Division frosh-soph singles title last week. His partner was junior Eric Lu, who has seen little action this season.
Menlo countered with David Roy and Sam Korman, who needed to win to prevent the upset. The Knights' duo did just that with a 6-3, 6-3 victory. Moments later, Paly's No. 2 doubles tandem of Niall Patrick and Gabe Mechali posted a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Mark Ball and Dylan Pace.
"It was close," said Harader. "I'd rather have it a close match like that . . . I think the guys played really great, taking Menlo to a 4-3 match -- that's darn good."
While Palo Alto finished 14-7, Menlo improved to 19-3 and will take on No. 4 Bellarmine (20-3) on Wednesday at Courtside Club in Los Gatos where temperatures are expected to reach nearly 100 degrees. The Bells advanced with a 4-3 win over No. 5 Monta Vista.
The championship match will be Friday, also at Courtside at 1:30 p.m.
Third-seeded Menlo-Atherton hopes to be playing on Friday, but first must get by No. 2 Saratoga (19-0) on Wednesday in a semifinal at the Los Gatos Swim & Racquet Club. First serve is 1:30 p.m.
Menlo-Atherton (19-4) lived up to its seed by eliminating No. 6 Serra, 6-1, in the quarterfinals on Monday in Atherton.
From the first serve, M-A showed its superior depth by sweeping the doubles matches surprisingly easily. At No. 1 doubles, Saul Menjivar and Axel Brenner were first off the courts with a convincing 6-0, 6-2 win. Soon thereafter, Drew Mathews and Danny LaPorte at No. 2 walked off with a 6-2, 6-3 win. Almost simultaneously, the No. 3 team of Alex Iyer and Zach Novak wrapped up a 6-2, 6-2 win.
While the Bears held a 3-0 lead, all four singles courts still very much in doubt and no one on the Bears' sideline was taking a win for granted.
Serra's brother act of Matt and Peter Campana took the first sets at No. 1 and 2 singles, respectively, and at No. 4 singles, Serra's Brendan Barrows battled back from 2-5 to 5-5 against M-A's Casey Morris. Only the Bears' Nick Fratt at No. 3 singles had won the first set for M-A at that point. Serra then won its lone point when Peter Campana won 6-2, 6-4 over Reed Fratt, Nick's brother, making it 3-1.
All eyes turned to Nick as he was closest to clinching the match. He did not disappoint, knocking off Serra's Gordon Barrows, Brendan's brother, 6-1, 6-3, sending the Bears to the semifinals for the first time in 29 years.
It was sweet revenge for Nick as he suffered the only loss in Friday's CCS second-round 6-1 win over Homestead. The Bears are excited for a rematch with Saratoga, having lost to the unbeaten Falcons earlier in the season, at Fresno, 6-1.
Getting six goals each from George Pike and Colin Johnson, the Menlo School boys opened the SCVAL playoffs with an 18-8 romp over visiting Woodside on Monday.
The Knights (14-5) took a three-goal lead after the first period and stretched that to an 11-6 halftime advantage. Johnson, a senior, and Pike, a freshman, each added an assist while combining for a dozen goals. Junior Jack Marren added three goals, Jack Ferguson finished with two goals and Will Kittler added one, while senior Riley Zeisler finishing with four assists.
Goalie Bruno Geoly had 10 saves for Menlo, which next plays Wednesday in the semifinals.
Allie Peery scored eight goals and added an assist to pace Palo Alto to a 19-5 romp over visiting Leland in a SCVAL first-round playoff match Monday. The Vikings (15-5), who grabbed an 11-1 halftime lead, also got three goals and one assist from Paige Bara plus two goals each from Ami Drez and Liana Pickrell. Lauren Gargiulo provided four assists and one goal.
Palo Alto next plays at St. Francis on Wednesday in a semifinal at 7:30 p.m.